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How Curriculum Frameworks Respond to Developmental Stages

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How Curriculum Frameworks Respondto Developmental Stages:Birth through Age 8Diane Trister Dodge & Toni S. BickartAbstractAn early childhood curriculum shouldoffer educators a vision of what an age-appropriate program looks like and aframework for making decisions abouthow to achieve that vision. This paperdescribes three frameworks that ac-knowledge the different needs andabilities of infants and toddlers, pre-school and kindergarten children, andchildren in grades one through three.Infants and toddlers are at the stage ofestablishing trust and autonomy. Be-cause these issues are addressed in thecontext of relationships, the paper em-phasizes relationships as the focus ofdecision making. Three- to 5-year-oldsare at the stage of initiative. They liketo have choices, to come up with ideasfor using materials and for play. Thus,an environmental approach is used, andfive componentsphilosophy, goalsand objectives, the physical environ-ment, the teachers role, and theparents roleare defined and appliedto the physical environment as the set-ting for learning. Six- to 8-year-olds areat the stage of industry. They are in-creasingly product oriented, want to doa job well, and want to feel competentas learners. The framework describedin this paper has six strategies: (1) know-ing the children, (2) creating a class-room community, (3) establishing astructure, (4) guiding childrens learn-ing, (5) assessing childrens learning,and (6) building a partnership withfamilies.There is now more research on how people learn and specifically on howyoung children learn than we have ever had before. This research hasled to widespread debates in both the general public and media as well asthe profession about curriculum and pedagogy. Frequently missing fromthe debate, however, is an understanding of how teachers make decisionsin the classroom.High-quality programs are planned and implemented by people who areskilled and knowledgeable about young children and how they learn. Buteven the best trained professionals find it beneficial and appropriate toteach in early childhood programs that use a curriculum as a focus forlearning. An early childhood curriculum offers educators a vision of whatan age-appropriate program looks like and a framework for makingdecisions about how to achieve that vision.Curriculum in early childhood is defined as an organized frameworkthat includes three components (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992, p. 10):· ContentThis component is the subject matter of the curriculum, thegoals and objectives for childrens learning.· ProcessesThis component is the pedagogy of learning, howteachers teach, and the ways in which children achieve the goals andobjectives of the curriculum.· ContextThis component is the setting, the environment in whichlearning takes place.Each of these components, to be implemented well, requires a knowledgeof how children develop and learn at each stage of development; theirindividual strengths, interests, and needs; and the social and culturalcontexts in which they live (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. 9). Thesedimensions of learning, known as developmentally appropriate practice,guide all aspects of teaching and learning. When teachers understanddevelopmentally appropriate practice, they can use this information toguide childrens learning.At each stage of development, there are issues of central importance tothe healthy growth of children. Therefore, we have created three frame-3334Diane Trister Dodge & Toni S. Bickartworks to acknowledge the different needs andabilities of infants and toddlers, preschool and kinder-garten children, and children in grades one throughthree. We base our curriculum frameworks on ErikEriksons stages of socioemotional development(Erikson, 1963).Infants and toddlers are at Eriksons stage of estab-lishing trust and autonomy. Because these issues areaddressed in the context of relationships, we empha-size the relationships caregivers/teachers have withchildren as the focus of decision making.Three- to 5-year-olds are at the stage of initiative.They like to have choices, to come up with ideas forusing materials and for play. Thus, we use an environ-mental approach and design each interest area as alaboratory for exploring, trying out and sharing ideas,and creating representations.Six- to 8-year-olds are at the stage of industry. Theyare increasingly product oriented, want to do a jobwell, and want to feel competent as learners. In astructured community of learners, teachers can givechildren opportunities to investigate, represent, andreflect on what they are learning.Strategies for teaching grow from learning principlesmoderated by this information about stages of devel-opment. Purposeful teaching and learning occur whenthis knowledge is put into practice through curriculum.A Curriculum Framework for Infantsand ToddlersThe first three years of life are critical to a childshealthy development. Research indicates that morerapid brain development takes place during theseyears than at any other time of life. During thisperiod, children are discovering who they are, howothers respond to them, and in what ways they areincreasingly competent. They are also learning how torelate to others, what it means to express theirfeelings, and whether they are loved. Their brains arebeing wired into patterns for emotional, social,physical, and cognitive development.For infants and toddlers, development occurs in all ofthese areas as they use their senses to gain a senseof security and identity and to explore the people andobjects in their world. Too often, curriculum guidesfor infant/toddler programs emphasize intellectualstimulation above other critical areas of development.The availability of books promising to build superiorminds are plentiful, as are toys designed to teachlessons and skills to even the youngest infant. Butwhat is important in meeting the developmental needsof infants and toddlers can be found in the responsiverelationships children build with the important adults intheir lives.An appropriate curriculum for infants and toddlersfocuses on what is most essential for their healthygrowth and development: a caregiver/teacher whobuilds responsive relationships with children andfamilies. The curriculum should provide the bigpicture of what high-quality programs look like andshould provide a framework for making decisionsbased on knowledge of child development, observa-tions of children, and


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